Courtney Barnett | Those Song Instincts? They’re Like Moonshadows, Dude

Via the 25th Anniversary Issue, Under The Silver Moon!

Written by

Sarah Plummer

Photographed by

Andi Elloway

Styled by

Soaree Cohen

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LORO PIANA jacket and pants, ALL SAINTS shirt, and talent’s own bracelet and rings.

It seems obvious that a professional musician would be good at listening, doesn’t it? Musicians must enter into their own work by way of listening—being with sound as it relates to feeling, energy, and stories—yet the complexity of listening is often overlooked. 

Courtney Barnett is good at listening. Markedly, that’s how I felt when speaking with her about End of the Day (music from the film Anonymous Club), her most recent album release with collaborator Stella Mozgawa. Barnett, one of Australia’s greatest musical exports, is a brilliant lyricist (read: poet) who plays a fierce left-handed guitar. Collaborating with friends the likes of Kurt Vile and most recently, Sharon Van Etten, Barnett gives expression to the banalities and restless quandaries of living in equal measure. She shows up in the room wholly, authentically, and seemingly always in a good pair of pants. 

End of the Day, born out of a re-listening to the music that Barnett and Mozgawa originally made for Danny Cohen’s documentary, Anonymous Club, is an entirely instrumental album—something “new” for Barnett, or new for her audience, at least, marking a vulnerable divergence from the artist’s strong lyric-driven discography. “The way that it started and the way it ended up was quite far apart,” Barnett mulls while we discuss the album. End of the Day is new in more ways than one: reshaped from the pieces that Barnett & Mozgawa recorded in 2021 for Cohen’s film, Barnett borrows this source material from herself, drawing them into something discrete and expansive, almost tidal in its movement. “Some of them are just this kind of flowing, like big kind of landscape pieces,” she says. These days, Barnett spends part of her time living in Joshua Tree, a place whose vastness constitutes a field of centers, absorbing the human body within its wholeness. “Really quiet…” she had said, as we were just getting settled. Stretching on and on, this part-time desert home of hers spreads itself out with a voluminous freedom not unlike End of the Day. Both are places you can be inside of and still hear yourself think.  

NILI LOTAN jacket and shirt, ALL SAINTS pants, and MAJE boots.

Real music-making music tends to reconcile a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity, offering a means of expression through which artists might integrate dissonant stretches of interiority. This process calls for a back and forth that is largely inward-facing, remaining largely between the artist and themselves. “It’s interesting, even when I write, I find myself returning to certain words, phrases, or ideas, and they continue to come up through my writing career.” Barnett tells me about an interview she once did where the interviewer had fossicked through all her songs, counting the number of times she used the word breathe. “They were like, ‘You’ve used it 36 times!’ or something…”—we both laugh at this—“I found that really interesting because I had no idea…it wasn’t intentional.”

Despite the journalistic rigor (or fandom) of this observation, perspectives that compel a reengagement with one’s own content can be good. Perhaps, out of that torque comes insight. As for End of the Day, it wasn’t until a year later that Barnett returned to the original score for Anonymous Club and was caught anew by it’s hard-to-grasp breadth. “The fact that I listened back and felt so connected to it a year and a half after we did it, I felt like it was a really important and special thing to share with people.” 

NILI LOTAN jacket and shirt, ALL SAINTS pants, and MAJE boots.

Listening to your own work is not the same thing as listening to the world. Listening out has no agenda but to receive, walking softly, to hear what is spoken to us. Without the decoration of words, this album reaches into something essential, hovering outside of time and scaled to something larger than our ordinary human proportions. In that vein, the album cover for End of the Day is just right, featuring a somewhat indistinct photograph of a landscape. “We got everything in the right place musically and then it came time for the artwork, and I just couldn’t figure out what to do. Nothing seemed to fit the puzzle, aesthetically. I remember asking Danny Cohen—he sent me a bunch of stills and one of them is now the cover of the album.”

Having been arrested by the image for days, I wanted to hear more about it. “It was from a day on tour—we had a day off and went to Niagara Falls. We were like, ‘Let’s do it all! We’ll go out on the boat and look up!’ There’s this shot where Danny looked from the boat back to the land and there’s this path of people.” The shot captures a line of people, all dressed in blue raincoats, zigging and zagging themselves down a flight of stairs. Together, these dots of blue form a curious spectacle against a sweep of green, embedded in the landscape by a heavy-lying mist. “I just felt like there was something so strong—maybe it’s that juxtaposition of people versus nature: people being very small in nature, this kind of speck on a hillside.”

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN top and talent’s own ring.

Despite not being much good with pithy questions, I had wanted to finish our conversation with something I could carry forward with me into my day. “Are we going to make it?” I say, as Barnett offers back an encouraging grin. “I think part of the reason I love walking in big mountains is that I realize the planet is gonna live on in whatever form,” she says. “It’s constantly changing and being ruined by us over this small amount of time, but it’s gonna live on and we’re gonna make it as long as we’re supposed to (which probably isn’t that long).” That is just it, I think—the world’s capacity to contain humanity’s awkwardness within its own perfection. That must be how Niagara Falls makes a marvel of our silly blue raincoats. 

Courtney Barnett is one of those rare and crucial artists who listens in, as well as listening out, braving that uncertain space between hearing and knowing, for the rest of us. End of the Day (music from the film Anonymous Club), was released on 8th September, 2023 via Barnett’s co-founded label, Milk! Records—one of the final releases before closed this past year. If I were you, I’d give it a listen. 

GUCCI jacket and pants and THURSDAY BOOTS shoes.

Photographed by Andi Elloway

Styled by Soaree Cohen at Atelier Management

Written by Sarah Plummer

Hair: Juanita Lyon using Oribe at Celestine Agency

Makeup: Amy Chance at Celestine Agency

Location: Hustle and Motivate Studios

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Courntey Barnett, Flaunt Magazine, Issue 190, 25th Anniversary Issue, Under The Silver Moon